Malls are forced to think out of the box to survive

Partnerships hope to revive centres, writes Ufrieda Ho

15 November 2017 - 12:38 By Ufrieda Ho
The Mall of Africa tried hosting Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
The Mall of Africa tried hosting Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Image: Supplied

The end of days for malls is coming if the US apocalypse in retail is anything to go by, but South African shopping centres are desperately trying to hold off writing epitaphs just yet.

Bringing malls back from the brink has been about innovation in the hope of attracting more feet through doors. It's forced malls to focus on a buzz concept like ''retail-tainment".

Malls have had to look beyond run-of-the- mill "value-adds" like skate parks, demo stands, bad art exhibitions and flea markets. They've turned instead to partnering with established, more prominent events.

Last month, after 17 years, the National Antiques and Decorative Arts Faire changed venues from the Sandton Convention Centre to the Mall of Africa.

It was a leap of faith, says the fair's Guilo Osso. "We did worry about things like security over a three-day event. Some exhibitors worried that the mall was too far out from the centre of Joburg for people to get to. We as organisers had to forgo the R100 daily ticket price we charged previously in order to make the fair an open, public event."

It turned out to be a win-win. Osso says the mall drew more visitors and shoppers over their event weekend and exhibitors were exposed to an entirely new client base.

 

"Our exhibitors made more sales to new customers rather than their regular collectors and that's important for a market that has for some time needed to attract a new generation of collectors and buyers," she says.

The mall went on to host the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week as well as the Gauteng Philharmonic Orchestra's The Magic of Disney performance.

Partnerships can still be hit-and-miss, though. Melrose Arch's partnering with Joburg Pride was slammed by some in the LGBTQ community. The upmarket shopping precinct as venue was seen as too elitist, exclusionary and commercialised.

Partnerships can still be hit-and-miss, though. Melrose Arch's partnering with Joburg Pride was slammed by some in the LGBTQ community. The upmarket shopping precinct as venue was seen as too elitist, exclusionary and commercialised

Closer to the mark was Melrose Arch's hosting of the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market over heritage month. It included an opportunity to meet the artists, live traditional music and jazz, and bolstered public interest for the event and the shopping precinct.

But even partnerships may just be a stop-gap measure. Jesse Harber, researcher with Wits University's Gauteng City Region Observatory, says developers should be planning for a post-mall future.

He says malls belong to a different time when they served the needs of people wanting retail concentrated under a single roof and delivering the perception of security. In 2017 Harber says they're out of step with urban sustainability goals.

"That malls are needing to find new ways to get people through their doors is an indication we are reaching the end of the curve of malls as retail space; hopefully developers stop building them," says Harber.

This article was originally published in The Times

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